Advice for Retrofitting an Office Space

People spend so much time at the office - why not make it the best experience possible?

When retrofitting an office space, designers focus on three main objectives: increased sustainability, improved ergonomics, and enhanced wellness. Spaces must be adapted with a longterm view of both the needs of the business and the needs of the office occupants. For example, some facility designs incorporate agile architectural solutions that allow open floor plans. Each component of retrofitting – sustainability, ergonomics, and wellness – requires a different approach to air distribution, power distribution, and the application of technologies.

Strategize about Sustainability

The act of making a space sustainable, and thereby creating harmony within the environment, involves working within limits and taking full accountability for costs. To achieve this objective, businesses can set goals to both reduce energy costs and gain energy efficiencies through computer-controlled lighting and maintenance. Strategic sustainability requires an overall plan that incorporates the installation of heating, water, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and lighting systems that are both cost- and energy-efficient.

The trend toward sustainability has also shifted the conversation around power sources. When unplugging office spaces from dependence on the grid, the placement of windows, natural ventilation, and water source heat pumps becomes increasingly significant. A building renovation could place most windows on the north side to diffuse light while minimizing heat gain, using coated glass windows that reduce heat loss and lower the dependence on artificial lighting. 

To supplement strategic placement of windows, a building may choose to move to new lighting systems. This decision requires the evaluation of current fixtures, outlets, and wiring, as well as research into LED technologies to ensure optimal use of resources and alignment with technical requirements. In the drive for wise water use, a building can implement waterless urinals or utilize gray water for landscaping. Spray foam insulation or sun shading may be incorporated throughout the entire office space. Of course, in dramatically altering lighting, heating, and cooling systems, designers must also consider the impact on occupant productivity. 

New office designs also integrate technologies into the structure of the building. With the collaboration between in-office teams and remote teams continually increasing, a retrofitted office space needs fiber-optic backbones, access to cloud storage, and hubs for smart meeting rooms. Distributed antenna systems—a network of spatially separated antenna nodes connected to a common source—work as part of the structure and ensure wireless service for its occupants.

Consider Ergonomics

Establishing a comfortable working environment also involves ergonomics: the science of designing a workspace that accommodates the capabilities and limitations of its occupants. Applying ergonomics should allow occupants to avoid fatigue and discomfort. For example, in selecting a chair or desk, it is important to consider how the furniture supports the weight of a worker’s arms and removes stress from the neck and shoulders.

Placing a computer monitor on the desk or wall helps to encourage healthy head positioning. The weight of an individual’s head should stay directly above the neck. With this in mind, the top of the monitor should not extend higher than eye level. Along with considering the viewing level of the monitor, careful design should place the monitor at least an arm’s length away from the viewer. The placement of the keyboard should prevent frequent turning of the head and neck. Excessive reaching for the keyboard and mouse places strain on the shoulders and arms.

An ergonomic chair suits the body dimensions of a worker and matches the design of the workstation and the types of day-to-day tasks. Selecting the right chair requires an awareness of whole body posture. The design of the chair should neither imbalance body weight nor place pressure on the discs and vertebrae. An individual’s feet should comfortably reach the floor. While emphasizing ergonomic chairs, an office retrofit may also include orders for sit/stand desks that encourage employees to avoid sitting for extended lengths of time.

Focus on Wellness

An office retrofit takes a complete view of the building, the furnishings, and the needs of its occupants. While building a sustainable office space certainly focuses on cost savings achieved through energy efficiencies, the other part of sustainability connects to the environment and wellness. Reclaimed materials such as recycled carpet and steel frames, along with the use of VOC-free compounds and paints, keep the attention on wellness. Office retrofits also reflect the needs of occupants in their inclusion of amenities such as exercise rooms, healthy food options, and spaces for both privacy and social interaction.